A Heritage of Loving Service: The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Tucson
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by Sister Thomas Marie McMahon, C.S.J., B.A.

The Role of the Church in Arizona of 1821-68

The early years of the nineteenth Century were marked by a series of Apache depredations in Arizona which laid waste the land. The disquiet thus occasioned was heightened by the rumors of the impending struggle for independence from the mother-country which began to spread throughout the territories of New Spain and which almost immediately began to affect adversely the missions. Necessary funds for their support which had formerly been annually supplied by the Royal authorities were now being utilized to aid in the struggle against the Revolutionists. Added to this hindrance to their material progress was a constantly mounting opposition to all Spaniards and to the missionaries themselves which culminated in their expulsion by the authorities of the Republic of Mexico on December 6, 1827.1 The blight of secularization and confiscation now fell upon the missions. Although, much of the destruction of mission property and products in Arizona had been affected by former Apache raids; this action of the new Republic of Mexico completed their annihilation. No longer could be seen the peaceful mission Indians cultivating their vast fields and tending, great herds of sheep and cattle, for with the decree of May 10, 1829, all the goods of the missions had been confiscated. Sad as it might seem that the labor of more than a century in the building up of great cattle ranches and irrigated farms could be destroyed within a few years--far worse was the condition of the mission Indian who had been raised from savagery to the dignity of a Christian and who was now abandoned by the very force necessary to sustain him in that dignity. It is not surprising that without the guidance and protection of their missionary fathers, many reverted to their former savage condition or sold their possessions for liquor and degenerated into a state of idleness and debauchery.2 With the exception of the ruins of Tumacacori, San Xavier alone of the mission property of Arizona escaped complete destruction. It is to the eternal glory of the traditionally peaceful Papago Indians attached to San Xavier that in the ensuing years they remained close to their pueblo and defended the mission church against the assaults of hostile tribes often at the cost of their lives. For practically half a century this group was left without any spiritual guidance and yet retained a relatively high moral standard and taught their children to pray with trust in God. Their chief, in his official position as head of the tribe, personally guarded the vestments and sacred vessels and reverently placed them in the sanctuary when it was safe to do so as a reminder to his children of the faith that was theirs. As time went on the faith survived, although many of its practices were forgotten or began to be mixed with pagan superstition.3

The Mexican authorities were not only responsible for the expulsion of the missionaries but also of all loyal Spaniards from the new republic. Consequently, there were but scattered white settlements south of the Gila, Tucson and Tubac in particular, and absolutely none in that part of Arizona north of the river.4 This vast territory had not a single priest assigned exclusively for it. It was a part of the diocese of Sonora and was supposed to be ministered to by the diocesan clergy stationed at Magdalena. Owing to the general unrest of the times and the Apache infested country, which had to be traversed in order to reach these isolated spots, their visits were very rare. Salpointe sums up the situation in the following:

We have been told when the people of Tucson wanted to be visited by a priest for some festival or during Easter time, they had to send eighteen or twenty mounted and well armed men for him and give him the same escort to take him back to Magdalena. This arrangement was nothing but what was necessary, but, as can be easily imagined, could not be resorted to as often as the spiritual needs of the people required. On the other hand, the priests, after the expulsion of the Franciscans, were too scarce in Sonora, to permit the bishop to assign one for the missions of Arizona.5

Without doubt this lack of spiritual guidance was primarily responsible for the depraved state to which the morality of Arizona had gradually descended.

While the attention of the Spanish American settlers had been fixed on Mexico's efforts to gain independence from Spain and later, on the developments of the next Mexican Republic, Anglo-Americans had been unobtrusively but definitely entering New Spain. In the quarter century before the United States and Mexico became engaged in the Mexican War trappers and traders hardened to all the vicissitudes of the great outdoors whether it be mountain barriers, parched deserts, or endless plains, began to invade the remote rivers and streams of Arizona seeking beaver pelts and dreaming of attaining fame and fortune. Rarely was this dream realized. The common fate, after years of indescribable hardships and perils, was poverty and failure. Many met violent deaths early in their careers. Their importance to the introduction of Americans to Arizona was the knowledge they gained of the mineral wealth of the locality which information was responsible for an influx of American settlers several decades later.

Before this took place the United States was at war with Mexico. Except for the fact that Arizona was part of the territory to be acquired by the United States, it figured very lightly in the war. The conquest of California, one of the prime objectives of the war, did involve the crossing of the territory several times by American military parties thus further introducing this little-known region to the American mind. The termination of the war saw the United States through treaty and purchase, extending its boundaries to include the great southwest.6 Great interest in the newly acquired territory was evinced by the American Catholic hierarchy since the religious life of this vast and remote area was now their responsibility. The knowledge of the evils which existed here, because of the scarcity of priests led the "Fathers of the VII Council of Baltimore to petition for the erection of a Vicariate Apostolic in New Mexico."7 This was accomplished on July 19, 1850 by Pope Pius IX, and four days later he appointed the Reverend John Baptist Lamy as Vicar Apostolic.8 The prodigious amount of work which this heroic prelate crowded into the thirty-eight years spent ministering in the extensive vicariate beggars description. His zeal and resourcefulness were typical of that distinctive caste of French pioneer missionary to whom the Church in America today owes its very life. He was the counterpart of Flaget, Brute, and Badin.

One of the first actions after having received his appointment was to request his life-long friend and confidant, Father Machebeuf, to be his vicar general: "They wish that I should be a Vicar Apostolic, and I wish you to be my Vicar General, and from these two vicars we shall try to make one good pastor."9 Father Machebeuf, though doubtful that he had the necessary talent, virtue and patience, agreed to be his friend's assistant.

After a long and painful journey beset with many trials Bishop Lamy finally reached Sante Fe in the summer of 1851. During the wearying months of travel he must have thought often of the probable struggle which lay before him with the clergy and people of New Mexico who still retained their allegiance to the Bishop of Durango and who were so definitely Spanish in their tradition and outlook. It was to be his task to break through that tradition and claim their allegiance. The situation with which he must cope is rather well explained in the following:

The Church in the colony of a Catholic Country inherits the tradition and carries on the history of the Church at home. It is only in cases where a hierarchy is instituted de novo, having little if any continuity with a previously existing foreign hierarchy, that one can look for any considerable departure from foreign traditions or for any notable originality of method.10

Bishop Lamy's fears were not unfounded because upon his arrival the distrust of all that was not Spanish and particularly anything that smacked of the United States was very definitely displayed not only by the upper classes but even by the clergy. In fact, the clergy encouraged this animosity. Many of them demonstrated their opposition by preferring to abandon their parishes in New Mexico and return to Mexico rather than be governed by an American ordinary. Since Spanish colonial days New Mexico had been under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durango residing 1500 miles away. The distance and primitive means of travel obviously made it impossible for him to visit this part of his widespread diocese. For some years preceding Bishop Lamy's appointment, a Vicar Forane had governed the Church in New Mexico in the person of the Reverend Juan Felipe Ortiz, a very estimable priest, who served as a "medium between the priests and the Bishop, but he appears to have exercised very little practical authority."11 The spiritual life of the people was at a very low ebb because of the relaxed discipline of the clergy. Although the faith was still loved and claimed by all, it was merely from the remnants of cherished traditions handed down from the fervent Spanish missionaries rather than from the teaching of their lax New Mexican pastors. The following description of these deplorable conditions was written by Father Machebeuf in 1851:

This country of ancient Catholicity, but, alas, how times have changed! Instead of that piety and practical religion which marked the days of the Missions, we have now but the forms and exterior of religion. The people are all very exact in their attendance at the Church services, they observe all the feasts and keep up the confraternities and societies, but the reception of the Sacraments is sadly neglected where it is not abandoned. In a population of 70,000, including the converted Indians, there are but fifteen priests, and six of these are worn out by age and have no energy. The others have not a spark of zeal, and their lives are scandalous beyond description. It is plainly evident that Bishop Lamy will need to exercise the greatest prudence, as well as zeal and devotedness, in the government of such a diocese.12

Six weeks after his arrival in Sante Fe Bishop Lamy set out on a journey of 1500 miles on horseback accompanied only by a servant to arrange with the Bishop of Durango for the latter's formal renunciation of authority over New Mexico. Because there had been no formal canonical detachment of the new Vicariate of New Mexico from the older diocese this move was very necessary. He was graciously received by the Right Reverend Zubiria, "who at seeing the decree of the Holy See establishing the Vicariate of New Mexico said: 'I knew nothing about it officially, but this document is sufficient authority for me and I submit to it.'"13

Among the numerous ills of the Vicariate crying for alleviation, two in the mind of Bishop Lamy, must take precedence over all others: first, the reanimation of the clergy with zeal for their sacred calling and secondly, a remedy for the profound ignorance of the people which could be effected only by the erection of schools staffed by religious. In regard to the first, Bishop Lamy was ready to do anything to encourage and help any willing priest; on the other hand, he did not hesitate to suspend from all exercise of their ministry those who persisted in their error. " A few exemplary and zealous priests were found by Bishop Lamy during the first few months of his administration, who were willing to devote themselves to the care of extensive districts until more help would come, and thus the faith was at least kept alive."14 To these, reinforcements must be added so within the next decade he petitioned his mother country three times for recruits.

The second great measure in Lamy's attempt to revitalize the Church in New -Mexico was to overcome the profound ignorance of a people who had forsaken the Sacraments for the sacramentals, by the establishment of schools conducted by religious. Thus from their tenderest years he wished to mould a generation, to be followed by succeeding generations of New Mexicans, formed to virtue and well-grounded in the principles of their faith. With this in mind he called upon the Sisters of Loretto in 1852 to assist him in his great work of saving the youth of New Mexico.

How well Bishop Lamy had realized his two primary aims for rebuilding the Church in New Mexico can best be summed up in his own report to the members of the Central Council of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith written in 1866 just sixteen years after he had been given charge of the diocese:

We have been able to repair the majority of the old churches, and build 85 new ones, all of adobe. They are of moderate dimensions with no architectural character and as poor in the interior as the exterior. But, thanks to God, they are well frequented. The majority of our Catholics approach the Sacraments, and First Communions are established in every place where there is a priest. The total number of churches and chapels is 135. We have three schools directed by the Christian Brothers in full prosperity; those of the Episcopal City never have less than 200 pupils, many times 300. They are taught English, Spanish, reading, writing geography, history and arithmetic. Almost all our missionaries have at least one school under their direction, some have more, according to the place they visit.

The Sisters of Loretto have five houses in the Diocese; the first novitiate is numerous, and many novices belong to the first families.

On the 1st of January, 1866, four Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul have opened an orphanage and hospital in Sante Fe; for this work I have donated the house inhabited by me.15

But what was the condition of Arizona, that remote part of Lamy's diocese which had come under his jurisdiction after the Gadsden Purchase? One authority asserts that "Catholicism was almost extinct"16 when this territory was acquired by the United States. Aside from the shell of the traditional faith harbored by some of the Indian tribes, this was true. A consideration of the type of white settler moving into Arizona during the third quarter of the century and what was done for the nourishment of his spiritual needs may well explain this situation.

At the close of the Mexican War, overland travel to California increased rapidly. In defiance of desert and attacks by treacherous Indians thousands passed through the Territory of Arizona on their way to this new "Promised Land." As might be expected some of these stopped at various favorable spots in the Territory to establish ranches and farms. Until 1880 the white settler in Arizona was to be subject to almost constant raids from the Apache, his field laborers and herders slain, and his horses and mules driven off. This was one of the principal arguments employed by Arizona politicians for the establishing of Arizona as a separate territory. They felt that their great distance from the territorial capital at Sante Fe hindered them from receiving the proper support and defense against their traditional enemy. Arizona actually did not become a separate territory until 1863. In the meantime, it was not the farmer and rancher who were responsible for a sudden great impetus to white settlement, but it was the lure of precious metals believed to have been abandoned by the Spaniards which made this distant region a lodestone attracting migrations in which were often contained the very dregs of society.

The sudden influx of Americans, seeking to exploit its mineral treasure, produced a society that was without parallel in the world. An experienced traveler who had visited this rough mining town of the West described Tucson as 'a city realizing, to some extent, my impression of what Sodom and Gomorrah must have been before they were destroyed by the vengeance of the Lord...' In the Gadsden Purchase were gathered the worst elements of two civilizations.17

The most important mines in Arizona prior to the Civil War were operated by organized mining companies under such experienced miners as Charles D. Poston and Sylvester Mowry who revived abandoned claims and developed new ones near the principal white settlements of Arizona, Tucson and Tubac. The crew of these mines was made up of escaped convicts, refugees from the San Francisco Vigilance Committee, desperadoes from Mexico, disappointed miners from neighboring fields, and many in search of adventure and sudden gain.18 There was little organized government and every man was a law unto himself. He must be able to defend himself and to force others to respect him if he were to survive. Such absence of civil authority and lack of organized religion was responsible for Arizona's growing reputation for superlative wickedness. No stable civil government could be organized, it was felt by many, until Arizona became a separate territory. Agitation for this was continuous until it was accomplished in February 1863.

Although Arizona had been a United States possession since 1854, it was not until 1859 that it was annexed to the diocese of Sante Fe under the jurisdiction of Bishop Lamy. The Vicariate of New Mexico had been raised to the rank of an Episcopal See by Pope Pius IX on July 29, 1853.10 Bishop Lamy commissioned his faithful Vicar General, Father Machebeuf, to set out at once to make a survey of a section whose reputation for violence and general lawlessness had reached Sante Fe. He must also formally settle the matter of jurisdiction with the Mexican Bishop of Sonora whose see city was so far distant from Tucson there is no record that he had ever visited it. Bishop Losa received him kindly and transferred jurisdiction of Arizona from the diocese of Sonora to that of Santa Fe.

There was not a single resident priest in the whole of Arizona when Father Machebeuf made his visitation.20 As he traveled from one settlement and pueblo to another he baptized the children, validated marriages, and instructed the people. He spent two months in Tucson, the center of Arizona's lawlessness, and chosen by him to be the center from which he could visit the surrounding country. There was no church so a small house was used for this purpose. This makeshift was the first church since the territory had become a part of the United States. Here he incurred the anger of one of the local cut-throats by denouncing very forcibly the lack of respect for the lives of others. His life was threatened, and faithful Catholics thought it necessary to guard him from harm.21 Amid all the disorder and laxity one spot brought great joy to Father Machebeufls priestly heart. This was the reception given him by the Papagos clustered around their ancient church of San Xavier. The prayers and hymns taught so long before by the padres were on the lips of all. The greatest thrill of all came when:

The governor or chief of the tribes, lose, told him that he had kept in his house, since the expulsion of the Franciscan Fathers, the sacred vessels, for fear that they might be stolen if they had been left in the church. The objects were: four silver chalices, a gold-plated silver monstrance, two gold cruets with a silver plate, two small silver candlesticks, two silver censers and a sanctuary carpet. All this was enough to justify the good words tile missionary had always for San Xavier when he had to speak about Arizona.22

Upon hearing Father Machebeuf's report of conditions in Arizona, Bishop Lamy determined to get help for the care of this neglected area. He was able to procure two Jesuits from California, Fathers Mesea and Bosco. Father Mesea was assigned to Tucson and Father Bosco to the San Xavier mission. During their short stay in Arizona they effected a great deal of good. However, because of the lack of a residence and church, they were recalled 'in 1864 and Arizona was once more without priests.23

In the meantime, the Civil War had broken out which resulted in the recall of the United States officers and men from Forts Buchanen and Breckenridge, posts which had been established in Arizona after the Gadsden Purchase. Some of the officers joined the Confederate army. Arizona, if it took sides at all, was in sympathy with the South. The abandonment of the forts led the Apaches to believe that they had intimidated the United States army which was being forced to withdraw in fright.24 This precipitated a reign of terror which continued with unabated fury for ten years. During the war years neither United States nor Confederate troops were able to compete with nor conquer this wily enemy who knew every canyon and pinnacle of Arizona's rugged mountains. All the white settlers in this wild, wide, and terror- stricken land fled to Tubac and Tucson where there was a certain sense of safety in numbers.

Even after the war was over nothing of a very definite nature was mapped out by the Government of the United States to solve the problem of subjugating the Apaches and rendering life possible for white settlers. For seven long years, until the advent of General George Crook with his successful Indian policy, the scourge continued and Arizona lay helpless under its fire.25 Her mines lay unworked, her farms and ranches idle for the tack of laborers, even the progress of the Church was retarded under this terrible menace. Despite the danger of crossing the Apache infested route from Santa Fe to Arizona Bishop Lamy spent from November, 1863 until May, 1864 on a pastoral visit.

I traveled over a thousand leagues on horseback. In some places we had to sleep under the moon and to travel spaces from 20 to 25 leagues without a drop of water, walking to rest my horse. But we find ourselves rewarded for all this hardship, at finding such faithful souls. Not having seen a priest for many years, they take advantage of the visit of the missionary to receive the sacraments with fervor and gratitude.

On Christmas day we were able to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice, to which 20 or 25 persons assisted, kneeling on the ground still covered with the snow which had fallen the day before. The altar placed in the shadow of green had been improvised with the material on hand, consisting of trunks of trees. Some old boards which had done service were used as seats and tables. At that time these were only two miserable huts. Today (1866) you find in this place the capital of Arizona (Prescott). The working of the mines can make it a very important city.26

Upon his return Bishop Lamy set about making provision for the spiritual life of the Territory. He disliked sending priests into a region where death for them would be more likely a reality than a possibility, but his keen sense of responsibility toward his neglected flock there bade him ask for volunteers. Three generously answered his call: Reverend Peter Lassaigne, Reverend Peter Bernal, and Reverend J. B. Salpointe. Of these the first two were accepted and began preparations for the journey.27 At the time Father Salpointe was in the midst of erecting two schools, a work which the Bishop felt he should continue.

The two Arizona missionaries traveled from Santa Fe to Las Cruces by stage with no mishaps. From this frontier settlement there was no means of penetrating farther toward Arizona. Terror of the Apaches who were again intimidating the region by their murderous assaults kept all the stages through that region immovable. Nothing the priests could offer would induce a guide to conduct them to their destination. After spending three weeks in fruitless waiting there was no alternative but to return to Santa Fe.

Bishop Lamy's fears for his separated flock became more intense as time went on. There was no hope that the Apache danger would diminish, all the more reason for sending priests to the devastated area. He reminded Father Salpointe of the promise he had made the previous year. The latter, true missionary that he was, enthusiastically prepared for the challenging task before him. He was to be accompanied by two priests, Fathers Francis Boucard and Patrick Birmingham, and a young layman, Mr. Vincent, who was to be employed as a school teacher. Bishop Lamy, desiring not to rely upon chance for safety of his men planned very carefully their itinerary. They were provided with saddle horses and a four horse wagon for baggage and provisions which was driven by a Mexican. They were given a military escort from Santa Fe to Bowie by General Carlton as well as letters recommending similar protection to be presented at the various military posts along their route.28 Every mile of the journey which lasted from January 6 until February 7 was harassed by the constant fear of attack. An excerpt from Father Salpointe's diary of the trip demonstrates this forcibly:

On the 19th the missionaries started from Commins with a new escort for Rio Mimbres, a distance eighteen miles through Cook's Mountains. There commenced the real danger from the Indians on the whole of the road from this point to Tucson, a distance of about 260 miles. The soldiers of the escort were visibly afraid to go through the mountains by a narrow craggy canyon about ten miles in length. They spoke of several people having been killed of late by the Indians on that same road, but their fears were greatly increased when they discovered on the sand some footprints which they took for Indian tracks. All went ahead, however with caution, and their eyes scanned every bush and rock along the road until the dreaded canyon was left behind without accident or notable incident. Early in the afternoon the caravan arrived in the vicinity of the Rio Mimbres where some soldiers had been temporarily stationed for the protection of travelling people who had to camp there for water.29

Before leaving Santa Fe, Father Salpointe had been named Vicar Forane of the Territory. He had also been appointed pastor at Tucson with Reverend Francis Boucard as his assistant priest. Father Birmingham had been placed in charge of Gila City, later named Yuma. These posts were quickly filled and plans made to erect churches and residences for the priests. The house which had been used seven years before by Father Machebeuf was the only church 'in Tucson. Although the unfinished walls of one started while the two Jesuits were stationed there were an incentive for Father Salpointe to complete its erection. He called upon the people for help. The destructive conditions of the past decade had reduced the city's population to six hundred and these were none too rich.30 Nevertheless, their contributions were sufficient to finance completion of the walls. Lumber was a very expensive commodity, costing twenty-five cents a foot, a price Father Salpointe felt was too exorbitant to ask of a people already overtaxed. An unsuccessful attempt was made by volunteers among the men to obtain timber from the nearby mountains. There was no possible way of getting the lumber from the mountain peaks to the road far below. The plan was abandoned for the time being and a temporary roof was erected over the sanctuary.

Although the conditions of Tucson provided more than enough labor for Fathers Salpointe and Boucard, their missionary zeal compelled them to make trips to other places in the Territory. This called for a heroism we of the twentieth century can hardly appreciate. The harrowing experiences which were theirs as they traveled along the Apache-infested trails to distant missions were anticipated with a natural fear which makes their accomplishments all the more commendable. Father Salpointe gives expression to this in the following:

Whenever the mail came in, it brought invariably the news of people having been murdered here or there by the Apaches, so that, when a journey had to be undertaken, one would think of it for days and weeks in advance, fearing that he might not come back to his home. This was expressed by a missionary who used to say: "When I leave my house for a visit to the distant settlements of my missions, I write to my mother as if it were for the last time"31

Father Salpointe, like Bishop Lamy before him, realized that if any progress was to be made in rebuilding the church in the territory it must be through its youth. The most potent means of holding the youth and instilling into it right principles was through the medium of education in the hands of religious teachers. But to what Community could he turn? Who would risk sending Sisters to a section that bore the reputation Arizona had earned through the actions of the Apache marauders and white desperadoes? This French missionary through the advice of his French bishop was to find the answer in a city dedicated to the Crusader King of France, which harbored the American Motherhouse of a French Community going through the process of Americanization--the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, of Carondelet.


1 John B. Salpointe, SOLDIERS OF THE CROSS, (Banning: St. Boniface industrial School, 1898), 143

2 Geary, op. cit., 172

3 W. J. Howlett, LIFE OF THE RFGHT REVEREND JOSEPH P. MACHEBEUF, D.D. (Pueblo: The Franklin Press Co., 1908), 250

4 Bancroft, op. cit., 403

5 Salpointe, op. cit., 185

6 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo marked the end of the War with Mexico. The strip of land between the Gila River and the present boundaries of New Mexico and Arizona was added through the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.

7 Salpointe, op. cit., 193

8 Ibid., 194

9 Quoted in Howlett, op. cit., 154

10 Rev. Edwin Ryan, D.D., Diocesan Organization in the Spanish Colonies, CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW, 11, (Jan. 1917),146.

11 Howlett, op. cit., 163

12 Ibid., 164

13 Salpointe, op. cit., 198

14 Howlett, op. cit., 180

15 John B. Lamy, Catholicity in New Mexico, AVE MARIA, III (September, 1867),613. Copy of a letter from Mgr. J. B. Lamy.

16 Edwin A. Ryan, D.D., Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Spanish Colonies, THE CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIE, V (1919),II

17 Clement H. Eaton, Frontier Life in Southern Arizona, THE SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY, XX)CVI, (January, 1933), 173

18 Frederic L. Paxson, THE LAST AMERICAN FRONTIER (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), 159.

19 Salpointe, op. cit., 206

20 Howlett, op. cit., 251

21Clement H. Eaton, loc. cit., 178

22Salpointe, op. cit., 227

23Ibid., 241

24Frank C. Lockwood, THE APACHE INDIAN (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936), 110

25Ibid., 159

26Lamy, Catholicity in New Mexico, loc. cit., 614

27Salpointe, op. cit., 241

28Ibid., 243

29Salpointe, Ibid., 245

30Salpointe, op. cit., 251

31Ibid., 255

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